As in humans, obesity in pets is reaching epidemic proportions world-wide and almost half of the world’s pets are considered to be overweight.
Although reference ranges may vary, in general pets are considered overweight if they are 15-20 % over the average weight for a breed and obese if they weigh 30 % more than average.
Any dog can be obese, but middle aged, neutered or spayed and indoor animals are more predisposed to obesity.
What’s wrong with a little middle-aged spread?
Over the years it has been well-documented that obesity predisposes dogs and cats to Sugar Diabetes and Osteo-arthritis. More recent studies done in Labrador Retrievers have conclusively demonstrated that obesity actually reduces their life-span. Leaner dogs in one study lived up to 12-15 months longer than their obese counterparts and were also significantly healthier.
It has been shown that fat is not just an inert store of energy. It also releases inflammatory mediators that cause stress on various organ systems in the body. This this contributes to disease and even increases the risk of various cancers.
With the restricted ability of obese animals to breathe deeply and properly, general anaesthesia is also far riskier in these patients.
Although animals don’t bear the social and psychological stigma attached to being obese, obesity still has an emotional impact on our pets. Studies have shown that obese animals that lose weight invariably have an increased zest for life, higher energy levels, more enthusiasm and often less chronic pain. Simply stated, being leaner improves quality of life.
Realistically avoiding obesity in our pets is much easier than getting them to lose the weight later. Making sure that each animals receives the correct amount of the right diet is a simple but important starting point. Regular (breed appropriate) exercise not only helps to avoid unnecessary weight gain, but also maintains emotional well-being (much like in humans). Discuss what is appropriate for your dog with your own vet at the first puppy/kitten vaccination to get an early start. Avoid weight gain after sterilisation, by changing to a more calorie restricted diet.
If an animal is already obese, it will take time and patience to get them back to their ideal weight. Always check with your vet first before starting a weight loss and exercise program for your obese pet. Since our pets get most if not all their food from their owners, the responsibility to help them lose weight rests with us. The realisation that by helping our pets drop weight we are actually increasing their life-span, should be an excellent motivator for us to help them lose weight.
Choosing the right calorie restricted diet is very important. Most of these have a high protein, low carb content to keep our pets feeling full/satisfied for longer. There are so many products on the market, that it is important to discuss which one would be appropriate with your Vet or Vetshop assistant. Always feed to the Target weight of the animal and not to the Current weight.
Remember that any snacks, titbits or scraps from the table add to daily calorie intake. If your pet is used to the odd treat between meals, simply use some of their pellet ration for the day as their treat. Small amounts of air-popped popcorn or frozen beans can also work. Distraction with a game or a wrestle can often discourage snacking and making use of treat-balls that dispense treats during play can also encourage exercise and movement with only a small treat reward.
Gradual introduction and the slow increase of exercise levels is next. Remember that most obese animals are reluctant to exercise at first, as their joints are probably quite stiff. They also battle to take deep, effective breaths and carry a lot of extra weight around! Be kind, be persistent and be consistent.
Monthly or even fortnightly weigh-ins are important to make sure that you are all on track (and they can be a great motivator – success breeds success)
Don’t be discouraged if your pet is already overweight or obese. Take heart in the knowledge that every kilogram you help them lose will add to their quality of life.